Dumb lessons in smart home tech – Smart Bulbs

So it begins…  Z and I just moved in to our latest abode and I want our apartment to be smart.  I may not be the brightest bulb in the house but it’s probably due to being a smart bulb plugged in to standard dimmer switch controlled light socket. Smart home technology isn’t quite cheap and at the moment it isn’t even really smart.  It comes with a sweet “wow” factor but diving in to it there seems to be a big logic gap between the technology, the understanding and the implementation so herein I’m going to log my wins and losses while I climb the smart home learning curve.

To begin with, I’ll explain why buying a smart home hub with two smart lights doesn’t make any sense.

Lesson 1: Smart Bulbs are Stupid.

You see what I did there?  I left logic at the door and entered this conversation with zero reference to the bigger picture.   That’s kind of what smart bulbs do.  I didn’t realize it until after I purchased a Wink hub and a couple smart bulbs but now that I have them I don’t actually have a reasonable application for them.

The problem is that light bulbs are usually connected to power through a switch of sorts.  In my case (think: move-in ready apartment) these are wall switches. If you plug a bunch of smart bulbs in to sockets that get power via a light switch and turn the switch off, the bulb is no longer online and obviously isn’t smart. The initial problem is made more obvious when you realize that our natural response to wanting a light turned off is to find a switch that controls the light and actuate it. So much for scheduling our lights to turn on when it’s time to wake up. The problem isn’t in the bulbs so much as the fact that smart home bundle starter kits come with bulbs, not switches. The way  these inexpensive starter kits are being sold leaves us to assume that some bulbs and a hub is supposed to be useful.  Who wants to unlock their phone and open an app to turn their lights on or off?  Nobody, that’s who.

Now that I have a couple smart bulbs and a smart home hub, in order to usefully apply smart light to a single room (my office) I need to acquire a smart switch to control the light socket and put a standard light bulb back in the socket. A smart switch makes a regular bulb smart by proxy. After installing a smart switch I can then put the smart bulbs in regular desk lamps or other fixtures not controlled by the light switch and configure them to turn on when the smart switch is turned on.   This seems to be the most simple path to success with smart lights. 

The takeaway here is that if you want to convert your regular wall-switch controlled lights over to a smart home system then you are better off converting the switches instead of the light bulbs themselves.  Once you have a switch you can use to interface the smart stuff then it’s trivial to automate other things like turning on the smart bulb on the desk lamp across the room when you turn the lights on for the room or tying multiple switches together so one turns on them all.

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